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A large assembly of local leaders gathered Wednesday morning in the atrium of Saline Memorial Hospital's Health Education Building to hear an announcement that has the potential to change the future of the hospital.
Arkansas Heart Hospital has joined with SMH in an alliance that interim CEO Carla Robertson called "the partnership we've dreamed of."
Dr. Bruce Murphy, CEO and president of Arkansas Heart Hospital, announced the agreement at Wednesday's news conference.
Murphy said cardiologists from Arkansas Heart Hospital will see patients in Benton five days a week providing diagnostic, non-invasive testing and invasive services.
"They will also provide 24/7 call coverage to the Saline Memorial Hospital emergency department for acute cardiac care needs," he noted.
The partnership will provide patients with the opportunity to receive care from visiting specialists and will allow "seamless access to specialty services at Arkansas Heart Hospital when appropriate," Murphy noted.
"This is a promising new chapter for Saline Memorial and for patients," Robertson said. "This new partnership with Arkansas Heart Hospital, along with the existing services provided by Saline Heart Group, will enhance cardiovascular care for our community."
Murphy noted that the close relationship with Arkansas Heart Hospital also is evident through professional relationships between physicians, allied health staff, administrators and all employees who work collaboratively throughout the system.
"Our goal is to provide this community high-quality cardiac care and the partnership of Arkansas Heart Hospital and Saline Memorial Hospital just makes sense," Murphy said. "There is a long rich history of several decades of physicians from both hospitals collaborating in patient care. The opportunity to rekindle this relationship is exciting and one that both partners are looking forward to."
Murphy, who operated a satellite clinic at SMH for many years, said he was enjoying reconnecting with professional colleagues of past years.
Noting that he has a long history with Saline Memorial, he said he "grew up as a cardiologist in this hospital."
"I cut my cardiac teeth here," he added.
Murphy recently withdrew from practicing medicine to assume his administrative roles at Arkansas Heart Hospital because of regulations imposed in new federal health-care regulations.
In a recent "farewell" reception attended by many of his former patients, Murphy alluded to a new relationship beginning with SMH, but he did not reveal any details publicly until Wednesday's event.
"By building on the already strong reputation and resources of Saline Memorial Hospital, Arkansas Heart Hospital will continue to develop existing services, making them more efficient while introducing new services to respond to patients needs," Murphy said.
Eddie Black, a member of the SMH Board of Directors, called the affiliation between the two medical facilities "an arrangement that makes perfect sense."
"We're very excited about today (Wednesday's announcement)," Black said. "If we go back to our mission as a nonprofit hospital to provide medical and health services the community needs, this is consistent with that.
"We have had our cath lab there for three years, and this strategic partnership adds credibility to our cardiovascular support at the hospital," Black said.
"It's a very exciting day to make this announcement," he added. "When people think of heart care in Arkansas, they think of Arkansas Heart Hospital. We're thrilled to have them affiliated with Saline Memorial. Dr. Murphy has a long history with this hospital and we think it makes all the sense in the world to go forward. We're thrilled that this affiliation has come forth."
Black noted that "so many people in Saline County have been cared for by these physicians already. All of us are delighted with the partnership â€” the administration and the board.
"They will have a clinic in Building B within a couple of weeks. Some renovation is going on now, but they will have a presence there five days a week and will provide 24-hour, 365-days-a-year cardiac intervention through the emergency room."
Tom Baxley, a local businessman who serves on the SMH Foundation Board of Directors, said he and other business people in the area are "excited" about the new partnership.
"It's the greatest thing that could happen to Saline Memorial," Baxley said.